As the lights came down in the debate hall at Lynn University, the co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Frank Fahrenkopf, took the stage.
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He thanked us all for being there, and noted that the commission faces some challenges. In particular, he said, "I'm going to tell you a secret:" just that morning, a restraining order, filed by a third-party candidate who wasn't invited to the debates, had been lifted.
That candidate was the Libertarian Gary Johnson, who filed for a court order to prevent the debate from going forward unless he was invited.
He was eventually defeated by the two-party machine, but his supporters were outside at Lynn anyway, spitting into the wind of democracy.
Bill Sadler, the vice-chairman of the Libertarian Party of Palm Beach (on the left in the photo above) was standing at the booth outside a raucous pool party that Lynn was throwing for its students. As a libertarian, he argues for a lot of the stuff that appeals to Republicans (low taxes, tiny government) and a lot of the stuff that appeals to left-wingers (legal pot, less war). Somehow, in the process, the libertarians manage to piss off both parties equally.
"If we were [allowed] at a presidential debate, we'd be in the majority, because our beliefs are not extreme," said Sadler. Still, he seemed used to the party's position as an outsider. "I don't know what we'd do if we had to debate someone like Barack Obama," he said. By staying above the fray of the debate, "the honest answer is, we feel superior."
Gary Johnson headquarters is less easygoing about the issue. The restraining order filed against the debate commission claimed that the debate system was a "conspiracy" to "hoodwink" the American people.
And somehow, the one-two system does seem a little too simple at times. In the press room, Obama had a decked-out stage at one corner in light blue, and Romney had a stage at the other corner in dark blue. Obama wore a blue tie, and Romney wore a red tie with a touch of blue (he's moving toward the center, we guess). After the debate, senators and other party boosters came out to "spin" their words, holding red signs and blue signs for easy identification. It was a huge, elaborate, $5 million farce. And we were all gladly hoodwinked.
It would have been less neat with Gary Johnson at that half-round table. It would have required real discussion, not a stale ping-pong match of impenetrable sound bites. Someone, anyone, else on that stage might have diffused the unproductive Sumo-wresler deadlock that our democratic system finds itself facing.
But, says Sadler, the debate commission won't contemplate the idea that both these guys could be wrong: "They don't want a voice that says, 'We don't want power to that degree.'"
So, Johnson's restraining order lifted in the nick of time, Bob Schieffer faced the camera, licked his lips, and asked some stale questions to some very stale candidates, the only two guys who can please half the people all of the time.